The sudden silence of Ren Zhiqiang, a vocal member of the Communist Party, signals a retreat from the principles that led China out of poverty.
By Li Yuan
Weeks before Ren Zhiqiang disappeared, leading to fears among his friends and fans that he had been picked up by the Chinese authorities, the 69-year-old former property mogul locked himself up.
It happened at an exhibition he held in December to show off his wood sculptures, a late-life passion after retirement and rising censorship left him little else to do. He barred himself inside a small work studio, so that attendees could view him only through a small window or from the open roof.
It was performance art, Mr. Ren explained to his friends, to show his isolation after the government barred him from social media and giving speeches. When friends asked how the government might react, he smirked the way he usually did when challenging authority.
Now, Mr. Ren may have gone further than the current leadership will allow.
His friends say he vanished this month after writing an essay critical of the Chinese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. The essay, which was shared widely within private internet message groups, never named Xi Jinping, China’s top leader. But it said the actions of a power-hungry “clown” and the Communist Party’s strict limits on free speech had exacerbated the epidemic. It declared that the party should “wake up from ignorance” and oust the leaders holding it back, just as it did with the leaders known as the “Gang of Four” in 1976, ending the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.
The disappearance of Mr. Ren, a longtime critic of the Chinese government, adds to fears that China is sliding backward and abandoning the reforms that saved it from extreme poverty and international isolation. Mr. Ren was no radical — he was a decades-long loyal Communist Party member, the former leader of a state-run company and a friend to some of China’s most powerful politicians. He emerged in what now seems a distant time, from the 1980s to the period before Mr. Xi became top leader, when the party brooked no challenge to its rule but allowed some individuals to question some of its choices.
Mr. Ren’s fate remains unclear. But if he was punished for his writing, it suggests China’s leadership won’t tolerate criticism no matter how justified it might be.
Like Mr. Xi, Mr. Ren was born into party royalty. His father was a deputy commerce minister. His mother went to school with the North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung, who held him in a photo when he was a baby, according to his social media posts and media interviews.
He was also well connected. He has been friends with Vice President Wang Qishan of China since he was in junior high. Mr. Ren wrote in his 2013 autobiography that Mr. Wang would sometimes call him late in the evening and chat for hours.
Mr. Ren hired Liu He, China’s main negotiator in the trade war with the United States, as a part-time researcher when Mr. Liu was a graduate student. Yu Zhengsheng, a former member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, its highest ruling body, worked with Mr. Ren when he was the construction minister and wrote the introduction of Mr. Ren’s first book in 2002.
Source: Read Full Article